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Wednesday, June 03, 2020

The crisis has forced us all to change our ways and our thinking

Over the course of the past few days, as the government comes around to the view that “We have to learn to live with this virus”, we have received innumerable messages from residents.

Written by Ameena Talwar | Updated: May 17, 2020 9:15:20 am
There have been incidents of RWAs’ high-handedness, RWAs going beyond their brief in interpretation of government relaxations. Archive

THE pressures of running a Residents’ Welfare Association, or RWA as they are better known in Delhi, are very similar to running a home. What you have is a huge joint family. But, at the end of the day, what matters is one should feel happy about coming home.

Over the 10 years that I have been associated with the RWA in my Vasant Kunj society, there have been ups and downs. Like in a family, our share of disagreements and disputes. However, my team and I have managed to earn the confidence, goodwill and faith of its people.

It’s this that has come in handy for us, as RWAs across Delhi chart out their course in the post-Covid-19 world. We have all heard accounts of RWAs’ high-handedness, RWAs going beyond their brief in interpretation of government relaxations, and members having to seek police help to get around them.

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From the beginning of the lockdown, my team and I kept communication open and left a lot of the decision-making to residents. One of the first hurdles we faced was in the delivery of newspapers as some feared these could be carriers of the virus. We decided that people who wanted the papers should be allowed to get them. For several days, the supply got stopped as the agent himself felt the trip was not worth the cost as not enough people were taking the newspapers, but eventually, it came down to choice.

We advised that residents not use the neighbourhood parks, in accordance with lockdown regulations regarding over-crowding, but if people came out to take a walk in accordance with basic precautions such as masks and social distancing, there was no finger-pointing or shaming. We equipped the security guards with masks and thermal scanners. Deliveries to doorsteps were stopped but people could always step out for their needs.

The elderly staying alone were allowed to bring in help if they needed, including getting vegetables and household
goods delivered.

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Yes, there were moments of despair among residents, calls saying they were mentally and physically exhausted. But while it was tough and important to take the steps needed, what was also important is that we retained balance. In talks we had with them on coronavirus regulations, police and government officials had told us to be very, very strict. What we were, were firm and reasonable, advising precautions, trusting the residents and praying that everyone knew what was safe and what not.

One only needs to be a dictator if there is no communication; rigidity has no place in ‘welfare’, the second word in that RWA acronym. Our message to residents consistently was: this too shall pass.

Paraphrasing an appreciative resident, given a chance to be “hostel wardens”, we tried being “local guardians”. The ball was left in the residents’ court.

Holding our nerves, conveying positivity, emphasising precautions and not giving in to paranoia worked like it would at any home — whatever the apex body of the house portrays, carries down. This was not as easy it sounds as the same lockdown movement rules applied to us as well.

One of the contentious issues that this approach helped us deal with was that of domestic helps. We left it to the discretion of residents again, after setting a basic SOP. Yes, most of the residents chose not to call back their helps, but it was their personal choice; they knew they could.

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Over the course of the past few days, as the government comes around to the view that “We have to learn to live with this virus”, we have received innumerable messages from residents. One of them wrote, “Should have thanked your earlier, but here it goes, thanks for ensuring sanity prevails in B-5&6 during the lockdown. From all that I have heard, from office and friends, depending on people’s good sense rather than cracking down, it is rare.” Another wrote, “I’m proud our RWA has adopted a logical approach to the whole thing and is not behaving as a dictator”.

Several other RWAs have talked to us, asking how we have put in place the gradual un-lockdown. Whenever asked, we have shared our experience.

We understand that these words of appreciation could really be words of relief, and could as easily change into words of fury if things don’t go as hoped for. However, Covid-19 is not going to leave us anytime soon. If we knew that two weeks later all will be normal, we perhaps would have reasoned with our residents and restrained movement. But, as we all know, that is not going to happen.

I think the crisis has forced us all to change our ways and our thinking. Change is never easy but it is necessary. At your individual level too, don’t you see change in the way things are being done at your home or office?

This article first appeared in May 17, 2020, print edition under the title ‘RWA and balance in a world hit by coronavirus’. Ameena Talwar for RWA, B5&6, Vasant Kunj, South-West Delhi. The entire national capital is a red zone

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